Jump to content


Photo

English pronunciation in Elizabethan times


  • Please log in to reply
20 replies to this topic

#1 kenm

kenm

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 2906 posts
  • Member: 2075
    Joined: 09-September 04

Posted 15 April 2019 - 23:19

I've just been thinking about the words of Weelkes's extraordinary madrigal, "Thule, the period of cosmography", and wondered about the rhymes.  The verse lines are pentameters, with endings "phy", "fire", "sky", "higher", "turns", "dishes", "burns", "fishes".  The chorus endings are "I", "fry".  It was first first published in 1600, according to IMSLP.  I remember reading in one of Robert Graves's books that the Elizabethans never did eye rhymes, in which case we ought to pronounce the last syllable of "cosmography" to rhyme with "sky", "I" and "fry".  Does anyone do this? I never did in the days that I sang madrigals.


  • 1

#2 elemimele

elemimele

    Prodigy

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1035 posts
  • Member: 895612
    Joined: 17-July 16

Posted 16 April 2019 - 06:48

My mother does it with hymns whose lines don't quite rhyme, and does it in blatant protest!

(1) Personally I think there is a balance of correctness and effect: when something was sung in the 17thC its pronunciation would have felt natural and unobtrusive to its audience. If the authentic pronunciation is strikingly odd to a modern audience, then their experience becomes very unauthentic; they're hearing the right things, but reacting to them in a very different way to the long-gone, authentic audience. It's a difficult decision, and there isn't a right answer. Historically informed performance will always fail to be fully historical because you can carefully emulate authentic style, review your sources, and find replica instruments, even wear replica clothes if you like, and find an appropriate building, and then the audience turn up with heads full of modern experience.

(2) I'm not sure it matters. Unlike my mother's hymns, with their very obvious structure of a small number of equal-length lines with obvious ends, this madrigal (like many) is a morass of overlapping lines, the end of one being in the middle of another, the whole thing only occasionally coming to a pause. It's not obvious which bits should rhyme with which others, so when they don't rhyme, it doesn't grate in the way that it does in a much simpler hymn. In fact I have to listen carefully to work out what pronunciation is being used, in YouTube versions.

 

Small print example to (1): there is, on YouTube, a very capable American soprano who has some recordings of early works which she sings in a sort of Somerset burr. I'm quite certain from her academic origin that she's researched this and that it's completely authentic. She's doing it because she's singing songs where the singer is playing the part of an unaffected country maiden. To me it sounds weird, false, because she's obviously not a merry maid a-tripping through Somerset on a dewy 17thC morning; if she were a-tripping through a meadow in Maine, she'd be doing it in a light and natural American accent, so perhaps it would have felt better, to me, if she'd sung a natural piece using her natural voice?? I don't know... it's a hard one.


  • 0

#3 Latin pianist

Latin pianist

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 3493 posts
  • Member: 711500
    Joined: 01-April 13

Posted 16 April 2019 - 07:00

The hymn with the lines "When my work seems hard and dry, Let me press on cheerily" springs to mind!
  • 0

#4 zwhe

zwhe

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 356 posts
  • Member: 898658
    Joined: 19-January 18

Posted 16 April 2019 - 07:36

Sing it with a West Midlands accent, then it will rhyme!

 

Rhyme is a strange thing that is very dependent on accent. When my eldest was little, she had a homework sheet with sets of three words, where she had to circle the odd one out. We couldn't do it - my kids were raised in Birmingham, I grew up in Derbyshire and their father in Somerset. We each had different answers for several of the questions, which were clearly made for a well-spoken south east accent.


  • 1

#5 kenm

kenm

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 2906 posts
  • Member: 2075
    Joined: 09-September 04

Posted 16 April 2019 - 08:39

Thanks; interesting answers all.


  • 0

#6 elemimele

elemimele

    Prodigy

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1035 posts
  • Member: 895612
    Joined: 17-July 16

Posted 16 April 2019 - 11:00

Oh yes, rhymes and pronunciation. I come from a part of the world where children sent home with instructions to think of homophones(*) return the next day with note/newt and here/hair

(* I had to look up the technical term; words that sound the same but are spelt differently)


  • 0

#7 kenm

kenm

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 2906 posts
  • Member: 2075
    Joined: 09-September 04

Posted 16 April 2019 - 23:43

I come from a part of the world where children sent home with instructions to think of homophones(*) return the next day with note/newt and here/hair

That sounds frightfully "U".  Did you know the Mitfords?


  • 0

#8 hazymus

hazymus

    Member

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 67 posts
  • Member: 52192
    Joined: 14-January 09
  • Co. Wicklow, Republic of Ireland

Posted 29 April 2019 - 14:08

I studied linguistics for speech therapy when I was young and David Crystal was our professor.  He and his actor son Ben Crystal are involved in the original pronunciation of Shakespeare.  These videos may interest you (there are lots more on Youtube.)

 

 

https://youtu.be/YiblRSqhL04


  • 1

#9 Gran'piano

Gran'piano

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 137 posts
  • Member: 899443
    Joined: 19-January 19

Posted 29 April 2019 - 14:34

Fascinating guy to listen to. His books are great too. He gave a talk at the Uni in Z├╝rich a couple of years ago and I got hooked.
  • 0

#10 hazymus

hazymus

    Member

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 67 posts
  • Member: 52192
    Joined: 14-January 09
  • Co. Wicklow, Republic of Ireland

Posted 29 April 2019 - 14:39

I studied linguistics for speech therapy when I was young and David Crystal was our professor.  He and his actor son Ben Crystal are involved in the original pronunciation of Shakespeare.  This video may interest you (there are lots more on Youtube.)

 

https://youtu.be/YiblRSqhL04


  • 0

#11 Vox Humana

Vox Humana

    Prodigy

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1146 posts
  • Member: 58391
    Joined: 09-March 09

Posted 29 April 2019 - 21:24

One of the classic lost Elizabethan rhymes is in the last verse of Thomas Morley's "Now is the month of maying":

 

Say, dainty nymphs, and speak,

Shall we play barley-break?

 

For Morley, "speak" and "break" rhymed, but any modern attempt to make them do so is bound to sound artificial unless the whole thing is being sung in period pronunciation. Even then it probably won't work. The problem with period pronunciation is that it absolutely must be done in a manner that sounds entirely natural and unselfconscious and this almost never happens. Usually it sounds like a send-up, which a genuinely natural accent won't (and we all get to hear plenty these days).  So, personally, I wouldn't bother about it. If you feel really nerdy (which I admit I never have), get stuck into chapter 4 (p.90) of this excellent book.


  • 0

#12 kenm

kenm

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 2906 posts
  • Member: 2075
    Joined: 09-September 04

Posted 02 May 2019 - 12:04

One of the classic lost Elizabethan rhymes is in the last verse of Thomas Morley's "Now is the month of maying":

 

Say, dainty nymphs, and speak,

Shall we play barley-break?

 

For Morley, "speak" and "break" rhymed, but any modern attempt to make them do so is bound to sound artificial unless the whole thing is being sung in period pronunciation. Even then it probably won't work. The problem with period pronunciation is that it absolutely must be done in a manner that sounds entirely natural and unselfconscious and this almost never happens. Usually it sounds like a send-up, which a genuinely natural accent won't (and we all get to hear plenty these days).  So, personally, I wouldn't bother about it. If you feel really nerdy (which I admit I never have), get stuck into chapter 4 (p.90) of this excellent book.

The north Kent/SE London accent would make them pretty close to a rhyme.  When we lived in Orpington my wife would occasionally comment on "queen" pronounced rather close to "quane".


  • 0

#13 Aeolienne

Aeolienne

    Prodigy

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1923 posts
  • Member: 16983
    Joined: 27-September 07
  • Leamington Spa, Warks

Posted 03 May 2019 - 13:30

When our school choir learnt the Morley madrigal April is in my mistress' face we were taught to pronounce "July" as "Julie".

 

April is in my mistress' face,
And July in her eyes hath place;
Within her bosom is September,
But in her heart a cold December.

  • 0

#14 LoneM

LoneM

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 423 posts
  • Member: 894763
    Joined: 24-November 15

Posted 03 May 2019 - 13:47

 

When our school choir learnt the Morley madrigal April is in my mistress' face we were taught to pronounce "July" as "Julie".

 

The same happened at my school - though as this was in Scotland I think other aspects of our pronunciation might have been found wanting.... smile.png


  • 0

#15 elemimele

elemimele

    Prodigy

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1035 posts
  • Member: 895612
    Joined: 17-July 16

Posted 03 May 2019 - 14:00

in my old school the 3rd line would have caused such crises of hormones that our music teacher wouldn't have dared suggest it.


  • 0